Faced with the task of making this announcement, I must confess I was at a loss for words. I should remind you readers of St. Augustine’s importance as the greatest of the Church Fathers, the thinker who launched medieval theology, the authority most quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Catholic author most embraced by our Protestant brothers. It’s hard to imagine a spiritual classic that has had a broader, more powerful impact than Augustine’s Confessions.
But when I stopped to think about this intimate, powerful memoir of the Doctor of Grace, I was overwhelmed by the memory of the first time I encountered it, as a teenage student. Augustine’s candid account of his spiritual journey had burst into my heart and imagination like the sun through a stained glass window. When I read it most recently, a couple of years ago, I was the middle-aged teacher of teenage students. But Confessions was still reaching across the centuries, resonating with the restless hearts of its readers.
St. Augustine’s memoir is intimate enough to speak to 14-year-olds and metaphysical enough to absorb scholars. My late professor Frederick Crosson used to read Confessions every year. When I last saw him one month before he died in 2009, he was in a nursing home, no longer capable of speech. Yet I handed him a copy of his favorite book, and he gave his signature chuckle of recognition.
It is this delight of recognition that Confessions draws from us all. St. Augustine’s compelling witness invites every reader to consider his own spiritual journey, his own chapter of salvation history.
The late Fr. Reginald Foster, OCD, another teacher of mine and the papal Latinist for 40 years, used to proclaim of Augustine’s Latin, “Nobody could write like this—nobody! Not Cicero, not Catullus, not Virgil. Nobody, nobody, nobody!”
I’ve given the first page of Confessions to undergraduate Latin students to translate by the dropperful. Each sentence is so rich with feeling and intensity that it makes the years of learning Latin conjugations suddenly all worthwhile.
That’s why it gives us special joy to bring forth Confessions in our signature bi-lingual format, which will give every reader the immediacy of Augustine’s Latin alongside the intimacy of English, in Sr. Maria Boulding’s acclaimed 1997 translation.
Confessions holds a unique place in theology, and indeed in the history of Western civilization. By his own example, the Doctor of Grace engages every student, showing in luminous language how personal theology must be. Confessions takes each of us back to our beginning while summoning us to the road ahead.
Where were you when you first read Augustine’s Confessions?